These are strange, unsettled times. It’s probably just another day at home for you, and you yo-yo between turmoil, fear, and boredom. Or, your daily battle is to be proactive and change your habits to help curb the coronavirus spread. 

Well, the best thing you can do to stay away from the new respiratory disease COVID-19 is to refrain from face-to-face contacts and follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NHS. The matter of staying in, however, raises a vexing set of questions:

“Does the coronavirus travel through the plumbing and the sewage system?”
“If so, how can I protect myself, my family, and my office?”

While this debate is intense, the answers are complicated because the transmission of  COVID-19 (a.k.a. SARS-CoV-2) isn’t fully understood yet. However, the lessons from the previous coronavirus epidemics should make us extra cautious

So if you are somebody: 

  • who is worried about coronavirus transmission routes;
  • who wants to stop the spread of flu and colds flourishing at home or office;
  • who has self-isolated at home or is a vulnerable person;
  • whose apartment is home to multiple tenants or generations, 

Get ready and read out this article to keep your plumbing pathogen-free. 

Table of Contents:

But first: Can you catch coronavirus through your bathroom plumbing?

With more than 3 Million confirmed infected people around the world, the pandemic curve of the novel coronavirus is skyrocketing. And nobody is immune to the virus. What’s worse, the world still has limited information on how COVID-19 spreads. What worries us today is the increased doubts that the COVID-19 virus might be present in the faecal matter and that infectious particles might travel through the buildings’ pipes. 

Should you believe this? This is what the Center for Disease Control stands behind:

“At this time, the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 through sewerage systems is thought to be low.”

Despite the statement, two real-life examples are fuelling fears for coronavirus transmission through the pipes – the high-rise Hong Mei House (2020) and the 50-storey Hong Kong Amoy Gardens building complex (2003). With all the major concerns there about improper plumbing modifications, inadequate wastewater plumbing systems, and non-functional water seals, you should get serious about pipework maintenance. Now, the last thing you want is to find yourself in a coronavirus plumbing nightmare. 

The good news is: thanks to the UK’s building regulations and plumbing codes, residents of buildings rely on a proper and safe-from-diseases plumbing design at all times. That’s because all work must be conducted by certified professionals. Typically, all essential plumbing features are hidden inside the walls of the buildings, so you probably don’t have easy access to them. In most cases, these keep you safe.

How coronavirus and other germs can spread through the pipes?

Indeed, we know little about the novel coronavirus, especially when it comes to the plumbing arena. Here are the potential routes for viruses and bacteria transmission in the bathroom, stemming from the previous outbreaks:

#1. Through the faeces 

It’s unknown yet, according to the CDC, but there are doubts that COVID-19 can result from contact with the stools of an infected person. Researchers call it the “faecal-oral route, meaning that the stool particles may contaminate hands and food if they reach your mouth, eyes or nose. It is, therefore, more important than ever to prevent the fast-spreading infection by washing your hands with soap for 20 sec and keeping everything very hygienic. The latter is challenging, but it is worth the effort. 

#2. Through the U-bend

Have you ever asked yourself,  “Why does every bathtub, toilet, sink or floor drain have a sharply curved “U-shape”?” Well, the distinctive “U” shape is there on purpose. It keeps a certain amount of water inside the bend and acts like a “plug” to prevent foul odours from reaching your bathroom or kitchen. 

The bottom line? With non-functional water seals, your home is at risk. That’s because there is no protective barrier between the room and the interconnected sewage system. If somebody from the building you live in is sick, the faulty drainage system may become a “reservoir” for viral load and allow the pathogen-laden aerosols to enter your bathroom. 

Most often, with regular use of your bathroom, traps remain filled with water and prevent unwanted sewer gases. But in case your property is vacated for an extended period, water in drains may evaporate. Also, according to the full-scale pilot tests, factors like high-ambient temperatures, poor plumbing design and construction, DIY installation, replacement or repairs can speed up the water evaporation. Well, you may really like DIY things, but they can play a bad joke on you.

#3. Through the ventilation system (airborne transmission)

There are likely to be times when leaves and debris block the ventilation system. In this unfortunate situation, pressure accumulates, and the system may fail to drain correctly. You may come into big trouble because the sewer gases are unable to escape from the building, thus releasing dangerous gases inside your bathroom. In this scenario, the vent pipe might be unable to provide equal air pressure on both sides of the trap, which can result in insufficient amounts of water in the traps. That’s why, it is very important to ensure your ventilation system is working as it should.

warning

If you are a DIY enthusiast, know that issues with vents can often be mistaken for the signs of blocked drains. So, in your efforts to cope with the situation on your own, you may leave the real problem undiagnosed for months or even years. 

#4. Through clogged plumbing drains

The first thought to cross your mind is that a blocked waste pipe, toilet or drain can cause bad odours and overflow. Then, you realise that this might be another danger during the coronavirus outbreak. Given that the virus can survive on surfaces from a couple of hours to days, it’s crucial to not allow pipe back-ups, overflows and standing wastewater on your floor or sink. Due to slow drainage or a leak, the virus-laden aerosols may contaminate the fixture surface or floor, and possibly the air in a bathroom.

The good news is that you can prevent contamination through touch or inhalation by simply flushing the dirty water away as soon as possible.

#5. Through the “toilet plume”

A flushing toilet may spread germs, which is a major concern if you or anybody from the household is sick. The so-called “toilet plumes” go off the toilet bowl as high as 2-3 feet after flushing. It merely means that the pathogens can reach other bathroom surfaces, i.e. the sink, floor, toilet paper holder, towel – and god forbid – your toothbrush. So, touching a surface where the potentially infectious aerosols have dropped is another danger.

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How to prevent COVID-19 spread through pipes?

Quite painlessly, you can take care of your piping with the following precautions:

  • Refrain from DIY plumbing works amid virus outbreaks. Unsealed ventilation pipes are a scary reminder from the past, so never alter or install pipes/drains if you don’t have the skills and prior authorisation to do this. Right now, one of the best things you can do is to contact your neighbours via email, phone or social networks to learn about whether the building plumbing is well-maintained and if there are any hazardous conditions.
  • Make a regular visual check to ensure the drains and pipes do not leak, and there are no cracks. If, for some reason, any disconnected or unsealed pipework appears, you can try taping the pipe while you wait for the plumber to arrive. Fixture parts, like a toilet wax ring and plumbing joints, may also wear and tear. So be sure to repair or replace them as soon as they stop working correctly.
  • Maintain your home’s plumbing system in top-notch condition. Even the minor plumbing leak, clog or damage you stumble upon needs extra attention. They are a great route for passing bacteria and viruses in a short time. Ideally, perform some seasonal plumbing maintenance checks to catch problems and do repairs as soon as possible. Urgent repairs for safety, hygiene and well-being continue in the current crisis. So count on professional plumbing help, like servicing your water-using appliances — water heaters, washing machines and dishwashers, especially if they are clog- (and germ-) accumulating.
tip

If you are a tenant, keep in mind that your landlords’ repair obligations have not changed during the coronavirus outbreak, aiming to ensure a decent, warm and safe place for you to live.

  • Ensure that all your bathroom and kitchen appliances have well-functioning U-bends. Are gurgling sounds coming out from the bathroom/wet room, floor or sink drains? This might be a warning sign of empty traps. In this case, mopping with bathroom cleaners or pouring drainage products will only “camouflage” the smell temporarily. But it’s not enough to maintain it clean and fill the drains with water. Your best option is to run the water for a few seconds or pour a quart of water into each drain outlet once a week.
  • Bleach drain traps. It might be another chore in your cleaning agenda, but pouring a teaspoon of 1:99 diluted bleach into the drain outlets will help to disinfect the area. Let it sit for 30 minutes and pour a quart of water into the drain pipes. That’s it!
  • Prevent sewer gases from entering your home. Oftentimes, they result from sewer back-up. To cure any bad odours coming from the sewage system, it’s advisable to pour a mixture of baking soda and vinegar in the floor drain raiser or any other drain outlet. Then, use a toilet bowl brush to remove the shallow residue and flush the drain with lots of water. 
warning

Remember, not all sewer gases result from clogs. Faulty drains or vent pipes, rust accumulation, corrosion, and pinholes along the pipes or pipe joints… these are less likely to happen but all of them can also cause an unwanted smell leak. If you are dealing with these types of issues, opt for an immediate inspection by a professional plumber. If need be, he might use a plumbing camera or conduct a smoke test to detect the weak spots, clear the vent lines or fix the drain issue.

  • Set limits for yourself and ensure you throw nothing but toilet paper down the drain. Still flushing cigarettes, sanitary wipes, grease, or hair down the toilet? Don’t flush other materials down the drain, i.e. “flushable” [but much thicker] sanitary and baby wipes. Keep your drains running freely to prevent faecal transmission through overflows. If, by any chance, a massive ball of flowing trash blocks your toilet, handle the issue the plumber’s way – with a toilet plunger or an auger. Opting for the fast-cleaning, but highly corrosive and caustic chemical detergents, will only cause issues down the drain and expensive fixes.
  • Maintain your roof vents. Stay away from problems when you keep your vents free of leaves, bird nests, debris, and ice. That’s how you will ensure your plumbing is properly ventilated and there is equal pressure in your drainage system. Leave the job to the professional if the vent line cleaning requires disconnecting or installing new pipes. 
  • Reduce the “toilet plume” effect for an extra level of protection against germs. Aside from proper hygiene practices, closing the toilet lid before flushing may help stop the spread of aerosols full of bacteria. While old toilets are more at risk, low flush and low-seat toilets are safer to use because they don’t expel as much as their old predecessors. 
tip

Got a cold? Suspect coronavirus? What if you have a roommate? Reduce the chance of catching the virus when you use a separate toilet, if available. Close the bathroom door to avoid spreading a cloud of expelled virus particles outside the bathroom.

  • Keep your bathroom clean and sanitised all the time. Make extra efforts to disinfect and sanitise every nook and cranny of your bathroom. And if somebody has already caught the novel virus, double your efforts. Read everything you need to know about your bathroom cleaning here
  • Apply antibacterial paint to the bathroom walls or ceilings against black stains and steam. Antimicrobial paint stands out with anti-condensation and anti-dampness properties, so you no longer see musty walls and ceilings. The result? Your kitchen or bathroom is less exposed to mould, fungi, bacteria, and viruses, which makes you less vulnerable to illness. Turn to the specialists’ advice for antimicrobial paints to get the best results. 
Related: Are Tradesmen Allowed to Visit Your Home During the Coronavirus Lockdown?

Need plumbing help during the COVID-19 crisis?

Notice foul odours seeping through your drains? Blocked toilet? Dry U-bends? If any of the above scenarios happen to you, know that Fantastic Services is still operating and does all in its power to fight coronavirus and plumbing emergencies you may stumble upon. 

Now more than ever, a safety-first approach is a primary focus for the plumbing engineers we work with. Before they enter your home, the specialists put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and conduct the service under the guidelines from CDC, NHS, and WHO to ensure their safety as well as yours. Plus, when you opt for Antiviral Sanitisation Service besides your plumbing booking, they can disinfect any surface you want to get it 99,999% germ-free.

Need plumbing repairs during the coronavirus lockdown? Find out more about your local professional plumbing service here.

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Takeaways

  • The best way to avoid the COVID-19 plumbing traps is to ensure your home plumbing system is running properly. Assigning routine maintenance inspection and timely repairs will prevent damages that might cost you a lot of time and money. In addition, your plumbing will be less prone to issues in the middle of the pandemic.
  • Modifying the plumbing system is what you should stop doing on your own. The microbes are opportunistic. They seek every tiny crack or damage, resulting from a DIY disaster, to reach a host where they can thrive and survive.
  • Leave the dry traps (U-bends) to the professionals when you can’t fix the matter by pouring water in the drain outlets. 

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We welcome your comments in the section below. Please, share this information with your friends and family members to keep everybody safe during the Coronavirus lockdown! 

Image Source: Shutterstock / Lisa-S

  • Last update: June 11, 2020

Posted in Life Under Lockdown, Plumbing Tips

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